The Learning By Doing Writing School Part 2

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After writing last week’s post, I started thinking about what I have read in the past two months.  This morning I walked around the house, stacking into my arms exactly those books I have played with lately.  They are sitting next to me as I write, two tall piles on my studio work table.  The non-fiction pile includes:

Story Genius by Lisa Cron, The Art Of Memoir by Mary Karr, Zen In The Art Of Writing by Ray Bradbury: all on writing process.

Let The Whole Thundering World Come Home by Natalie Goldberg, Terry Pratchett The Spirit Of Fantasy by Craig Cabell, Waking Up In Paris by Sonia Choquette:  all memoir and biography.

Freehand by Helen Birch, Your Life In Color by Dougall Fraser: books to feed my artist self, on drawing, and using the energies of color.

Here is the fiction pile, which threatened to tip over and crash when I attempted to alphabetize it:

The Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden, Sword and Sorceress XII by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Brief Cases by Jim Butcher, Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey, The Third Nero by Lindsey Davis, There Are No Ghosts In The Soviet Union by Reginald Hill.

Fated by Benedict Jacka, The Outsider by Stephen King, Three Moments Of An Explosion by China Mieville, The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, The Martian by Andy Weir, An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear.

You already know I love reading, and here are more reasons why.

In how-to books, I learn directly from their content, but I also learn how a writer captures or loses my interest in something that does not contain a obvious or inherent story line.  They teach me structure, and the balance between telling and showing–information, instruction, questions, personal example.  Ray Bradbury’s book, in particular, shouts his passion for writing.  He proves that how-to can be disguised as story and reach into my heart as completely as fiction.

In memoir and biography, I learn how the writer chooses to structure their story, what they choose to tell and to withhold, and how the writer as an individual shows through, or not, in their writing.  I learn the ways of telling and obscuring the truths of a life.  Again and again I see how easy it is to fool myself into thinking I’ve reached the truth of an experience, when all my words have only bounced off the surface.  I learn how I can be both blind and biased in what I choose to express, and admit that to the reader.  I learn how I can be honest to the bone.

I love love love reading, and I love love love learning new things.  Reading and learning all in one?  Probably why I also started writing.  These books show me if I want to write, I have to read.

Reading fiction is no less a teacher for me than reading non-fiction.  Fiction sets a pushing need in me to write, and the stories continually challenge me to go beyond what is comfortable in what I create.  These books set a demand within me that my writing reach their level of story, of structure, of flow.  That’s a high bar, but every time I write I work my muscles.  I and my words get stronger.

Some of these books swallow me whole, leave me dazed with story when I finish the last page, leave me sitting unable to move or think beyond the words still spinning in the air around me.

That is how I want to write.  That is the writer I want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

The Learning By Doing Writing School

joydiary05.page4and5.2018I am a person who learns best by doing. I can be told something, but I don’t fully understand until I get my hands right into it.

I am in the long process of learning to be a writer.  These days I alternate between writing, rewriting, and reading.

Reading other people’s words inspires me, whether it’s a how-to post or article, a nonfiction book, or a novel. Something in their work connects with and triggers the writer in me.

It seems I can no longer be only a reader when I read. There’s the writer-me in the background constantly taking notes. I have to read with a pencil and sketchbook close at hand to catch the flashes of insight into my project.

I know this happens to other writers. I thought it would interfere with my enjoyment of reading a novel by a favourite writer, would prevent me from relaxing into the story.

Surprise. It adds to my pleasure. As always, I move deep into the story I’m reading, but now I also move into the background process of the words and how they are building the flow of the story. I am not only learning by writing, I am learning by reading. Every book is a teacher for me.

In art school, I learned that the artwork I didn’t like taught me as much as the artwork I enjoyed. Both what I loved and didn’t love showed me who I was as an artist.

It’s exactly the same now, as I learn to be a writer. What I love and don’t love in other people’s words and stories helps me define what I wish to write and how I wish to write it.

I have as many teachers as there are books on shelves. How amazing to be a do-it-yourself student in the biggest learning-by-doing university in the world.

Thank you, all of you who write and share your words, and teach me by doing so.

Writing Between Work And Play

misc.pics 128It’s hot and humid today. There’s a breeze that smells of the ocean and green growing things.  When I look up from my writing, I see a horizon of water that is every shade of turquoise and blue. There’s deep purple at the farthest edge.

I am on the big island of Hawaii.  For the past six glorious days I have been playing.  Swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating, napping, playing cribbage and crazy eights with my husband.  Walking.  Writing.  Sitting doing nothing except watching the ocean.

Yes, writing is here, listed under playing.  Tuesday morning I played with my book, and ‘played’ is accurate.

I pulled out my notes and Mickey Mouse pencils.  I had no expectations.  I only knew I needed to write.  I was missing something I love.

Tuesday I turned work into play.  I wrote with curiosity and wonder.  I opened to possibilities that might show up, even if they shifted my direction and caused a need to rewrite.  I explored the story.

It’s true writing is work, yet it is work I love.  Tuesday I got to be curious and wondering, open and exploring.  I got to watch possibilities arise from my words, and experience creation.

Yes, it  required work in the form of attention, focus, time, and energy.  It required commitment to saying “I will rewrite this” when something was not the best it could be. It needed willingness and courage to move into my truest truth when it felt  painful or frightening.

Something pulls at me if I don’t write for a few days.  Desire, need, obsession.  Yes.  Even more, it is curiosity and love for writing.  I can’t not write.

My attitude has slowly shifted work into play.  I love that writing has become a mix of both these things.  Saying yes I’ll write today, with a feeling of curiosity, opens my heart.  When my heart is open, possibilities open as well.  My writing takes a direction my mind did not expect, I go exploring, and learn something new.

This is play and work as one.  I love that I get to write.